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#169563 - 12/31/19 12:11 PM On Sexual Morality and Civilization
jryan Offline

Registered: 06/08/07
Posts: 8610
Loc: Oakton VA
Why Sexual Morality May be Far More Important than You Ever Thought

A few days ago I finished studying Sex and Culture for the second time. It is a remarkable book summarizing a lifetime of research by Oxford social anthropologist J.D. Unwin.[1] The 600+ page book is, in Unwin’s words, only a “summary” of his research—seven volumes would be required to lay it all out.[2] His writings suggest he was a rationalist, believing that science is our ultimate tool of inquiry (it appears he was not a religious man). As I went through what he found, I was repeatedly reminded of the thought I had as a philosophy student: some moral laws may be designed to minimize human suffering and maximize human flourishing long term.

Unwin examines the data from 86 societies and civilizations to see if there is a relationship between sexual freedom and the flourishing of cultures. What makes the book especially interesting is that we in the West underwent a sexual revolution in the late 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s and are now in a position to test the conclusions he arrived at more than 40 years earlier.

Unwin’s cultural categories...

I will direct you to the link to read the whole article. It is an interesting piece.

In summary, the article discusses an old sociological study by J.D. Unwin that found that there was a direct correlation between strict sexual morality and the growth of culture and civilization while also finding that a culture that turns away from sexual morality collapses withing 3 generations.

In Unwin's study he determined a "generation" to be about 30 years.

More interesting, I find, is that his study found that this morality was not "make the rules you like and stick with it" form of morality that many think of today. He found specific correlation between abstinence before marriage, monogamy, and lifelong marriage and positive growth within a culture, while polygamy and absolute sexual freedom caused decline.

There is some discussion towards the end of the article about theoretical causation that is interesting, but what I immediately began to ponder was this: If such a correlation does exist, it is more than a little amazing that humanity seemed to have sussed it out long before Unwin, since such rules are coded into almost every social and religious doctrine from the beginning of recorded history.

It also asks the question whether just having standards is more important than actually adhering to them. There have certainly been periods in the pre-sexual revolution era where Western Elites cared little privately for the cultural moral standards, but were generally interested in maintaining the appearance of morality in public.

I would guess -- again, if the theory holds true -- that such a period of acceptable sexual immorality in private is a precursor to the eventual abandonment of a moral standard, the asymptomatic stage of the civilization's disease.

Edited by jryan (12/31/19 12:14 PM)
“Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts” - Richard Feynman

#169564 - 12/31/19 03:29 PM Re: On Sexual Morality and Civilization [Re: jryan]
Peter McKenna Offline
old hand

Registered: 06/07/13
Posts: 1173
Loc: Louisiana
Excellent article jryan. Anthropologists have signaled that we may well be at an inflection point in our country’s history caused by the advancement of modern liberal mores. RE: an estimated 40 million abortions prosecuted in America, the vast majority in the service of modern liberal sexual behavior. The enlarging of government services, de-emphasis of religion, and greater centralization of populations, resulting in loss of community, and loss of emphasis on the nuclear family.

The rise of social media may be exacerbating a civilizational decline due to an effective isolation of the young from personal contact and the insertion and adoption of liberal mores into youth awareness.


Edited by Peter McKenna (12/31/19 04:13 PM)
Peter McKenna

#169565 - 12/31/19 06:36 PM Re: On Sexual Morality and Civilization [Re: Peter McKenna]
CPD Offline

Registered: 04/07/06
Posts: 263
Loc: Lorain County, Ohio, USA
Wow, that's a jaw-dropper. Unwin's conclusions dovetail right into N. Taleb's assertion that religions provide necessary cultural heuristics that make a culture "Lindy" (prone to last). Thanks for posting!
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. —Samuel Beckett

#169596 - 01/07/20 11:55 PM Re: On Sexual Morality and Civilization [Re: CPD]
Dan Simmons Administrator Offline
CEO of the Hegemony

Registered: 09/02/05
Posts: 11210
Loc: Colorado
Dan Simmons comments:

I'll join in the thanking of our friend jryan for posting information from Unwin's book (I almost wrote "seminal research", but didn't want to be accused of using a crude pun) on the effect of changing (disappearing?) sexual mores on the general culture.

Of the various factors, I find the huge rise in the number of abortions -- and its wide acceptance in the culture now -- as the most powerful single element in the change of our (and Western) culture. I don't write about this on our forum here or on Facebook not only because it's too reflexively explosive, but because it's too important an issue to me personally. I actually believe that future generations (not only of Americans) will look back on this century and our cultures of easy and frequent abortions with a moral disapprobation similar only to our view of the Holocaust era now.

Someday I may talk about how and why I've long been pro-life -- not only in terms of hating the acceptance of abortions, but in terms of opposing war, capital punishment, legal euthanasia, rising suicide rates and the like. But not now.

Right now I'll thank jryan again and look forward to what I truly trust (and believe) will be another civil and informative dialogue here on our little forum. (Heaven knows that I always learn a lot from these discussions.)

-- DS

#169621 - 01/17/20 07:54 PM Re: On Sexual Morality and Civilization [Re: Dan Simmons]
ColinFraizer Offline

Registered: 12/15/13
Posts: 147
Loc: Indiana, USA
I, for one, would very much like to hear Mr. Simmons's "how and why".

As a father of three living children, abortion—especially late-term abortion—is heart-breaking to me. (Aside.Some of you may know my oldest daughter, another fan of Dan Simmons who sometimes posts about his work here, on Twitter, and on Reddit. While we were expecting the birth of our youngest, somewhat early in the pregnancy, my wife experienced a miscarriage. She called and we soon rendezvoused at the OB's office, already feeling the grief of this loss from our little family. The doctor performed an ultrasound—the first for this pregnancy—to make sure there was no further danger to my wife's health. And we discovered that she was carrying a second (paternal) twin, whom we now know as our youngest daughter, a middle-schooler. It was an emotionally-confusing experience, knowing that a child we had hoped to welcome to the world had died, but then finding we would indeed be adding a new little person to our lives.)

I also hate war and have come to oppose capital punishment—I do not believe the state can be trusted with the power to kill even the worst among us.

I admire the bravery Mr. Simmons shows by mentioning opposition to legal euthanasia. I find it terrifyingly dangerous. There is, IMHO, an almost death-worshipping undercurrent in the culture today, especially amongst health professionals. One need not search hard to find examples of how legal euthanasia has been frequently abused to end the lives that some find unworthy of continuing. Some of the weakest members of society—the old, handicapped, or mentally unwell—are often murdered by family and caregivers who tell themselves and others that they act out of compassion. [Yes, I know that there are people who actually choose to die and are unable to take such action for themselves. I mean "euthanasia" that has not been explicitly and clearly chosen by its target.]

In Mr. Simmons's books, I have sensed his opposition to suicide. Both my wife and I have experienced long-term, recurrent struggles against clinical depression and I'm endlessly grateful that neither of us has indulged that black urge. It has been a close-run thing more than once.

Edited by ColinFraizer (01/17/20 07:55 PM)

#169623 - 01/19/20 07:25 PM Re: On Sexual Morality and Civilization [Re: ColinFraizer]
Enright Offline
Super User

Registered: 05/17/06
Posts: 3593
Loc: CA
 Originally Posted By: ColinFraizer
I, for one, would very much like to hear Mr. Simmons's "how and why".
. . .

In Mr. Simmons's books, I have sensed his opposition to suicide. Both my wife and I have experienced long-term, recurrent struggles against clinical depression and I'm endlessly grateful that neither of us has indulged that black urge. It has been a close-run thing more than once.

Loved your entire post, so just quoting this small part here to make reading easier. As far as suicide is concerned, as I look at it, the opportunities to not be around seem rather extensive, in that if one died, a million years or even a trillion could pass and you'd still not be around. In fact you'd just be getting started at not being around, and a googol of years could pass and you might begin to wonder if you packed enough water for the journey. Since a lifetime is such a precious flash, what's the hurry? You'll get there.

#169624 - 01/19/20 09:02 PM Re: On Sexual Morality and Civilization [Re: Enright]
ColinFraizer Offline

Registered: 12/15/13
Posts: 147
Loc: Indiana, USA
Thanks, Jim. Given the sudden, protracted silence on the DSF, I was beginning to feel as if I had loudly farted.

ObligatoryDS: Having greatly enjoyed Special Agent D(an Simmons)'s The Crook Factory, I decided to make this week a "DS Double Header", so I just started The Fifth Heart. The first chapter—beautifully written, as you might expect—is, well, less than cheery in its subject matter.

#169625 - 01/20/20 04:25 PM Re: On Sexual Morality and Civilization [Re: ColinFraizer]
Ward Offline

Registered: 03/02/09
Posts: 1362
Regarding The Fifth Heart---it is my favorite book of Dan's and I've read and loved them all. I especially enjoyed chapter 6.

Regarding death----WC Field's summed it up for me. He reportedly has written on his grave stone "All things considered, I'd rather be in Philadelphia".

#169629 - 01/21/20 06:01 PM Re: On Sexual Morality and Civilization [Re: ColinFraizer]
jmill Offline
Full Shrike

Registered: 04/01/06
Posts: 5714
Loc: Earth

You weren't purposely ignored, Colin. I wrote a post in response about a week ago, and then accidentally deleted it! I didn't have the energy at the time to recreate the post.

Suffice to say, my experience with suicide is limited to only a couple of instances, but what I gleaned from that exposure is that suicide didn't make anything better. I can understand that the person who commits the act may feel that they have no choice, and I won't argue with that. You can't truly know what is in anyone else's head, but the effects on others were so devastating that I had to question why. I find it heartbreaking that people can be in that much pain and feel that they have no alternative. (I'm not talking about people in terminal medical conditions suffering from immense and unrelievable pain. While I still don't feel that suicide is the best option under those circumstances, I won't argue against it, only say that I don't want the government making those kinds of decisions for people.)
"Long is the way and hard that out of Hell leads up to light." -John Milton

#169632 - 01/22/20 11:50 PM Re: On Sexual Morality and Civilization [Re: jmill]
ColinFraizer Offline

Registered: 12/15/13
Posts: 147
Loc: Indiana, USA
Thanks, jmill. I was more concerned that I had unintentionally caused offense.

One goal I have when interacting with people over the Internet is to try to read their words charitably. I see so many negative exchanges on social media—and, to be fair, have caused or contributed to more than a couple—that I think could have been much better for all involved if people *tried* to imagine others' perspectives.

I am relieved to know I've not said something so grossly offensive that everyone would rather just go elsewhere than interact with me.

Regarding end-of-life decisions:
A few years ago, my (elderly) mother suffered a severe brain injury caused by a chronic condition. She was found unconscious and rushed to the hospital where my (even more elderly) father—who had previously experienced his own brain injury from a failed medical procedure—consented to surgery for her.

I lived over an hour away, so when I arrived at the ER, they were already prepping her for surgery, but it looked quite grim. While we stood around waiting, I saw the CT of her head and was astonished. She had developed a bleed and her skull was so full of blood that he brain was squished to approximately half the normal volume—we've all seen CTs of typical heads, right?

Soon, though, they took her to surgery and Dad and I sat in a lounge. After a few hours, a childhood friend who was a surgical nurse at that hospital, same into the lounge. She had heard about Mom's condition and came in late at night on her day off, scrubbed in and observed, then came to give us an update long before we would hear from the surgeon. It's was the sort of kindness one never forgets.

[Aside. After recapping in the most neutral and simplified language she could for my dad, she lowered her voice and said to me, "Colin, you need to prepare yourself for the very worst." My immediate response—since we were just talking about causing offense—was, "You mean she'll have to move in with me?" Fortunately, she'd known me since elementary school and knew I was just trying to deal with what I was certain would end with Mom's passing.]

Anyway, some time around 3:30am they sent me and Dad to an ICU room and we arrived around the same time as Mom. The nurse was going through her post-major-neurosurgery checklist while Dad and I sat. Eventually, she asks Dad, "Does she have any advance directives?" He was quite elderly and his own brain injuries had damaged his language centers, so he replied that he didn't know what she meant.

"Oh, I mean, does she have a living will?"

"Oh, yeah, she has a living will," Dad replied.

The nurse then asked, "So, what do you want to do?"

Dad responded, "She doesn't want to be kept alive on machines."

Bear in mind, she just went through a very long surgery on her brain, which would not even have been possible without her being on a ventilator and she would have to be for days or weeks longer as brain swelling went down and the various injuries and insults of surgery subsided.

Now, my father was a good and kind man, but one could not talk to him for more than a few minutes before realizing that his mental faculties were not those of a sharp adult. (I mean no disrespect to him. I think anyone fortunate to live that long eventually suffers some diminishment.)

I was astonished, then, when this nurse stopped her work of hooking up tubes and such and said, "Oh, well she is being kept alive by machines right now. Would you like me to disconnect them?"

Dad's replied, "Uh, well, she didn't want to be kept alive by machines…"

I honestly believe, had I not been there that the nurse would have pulled the plug right that minute. I jumped in as cautiously as I dared, pointing out that he had already consented to a grueling surgery which required the ventilator and that, based on my knowledge of her wishes, she didn't want to be kept alive, but unconscious as an empty shell. He agreed and the nurse then resumed her checklist.

Do you notice something odd in this tale? I kind of imagined a procedure something like this:
1. Is there a living will?
2. If yes, please produce it—or at least tell us what it says.

Nope! Step 2 for them was, "So, what do you want to do?"

Anyway, I soon convinced Dad to go home and sleep and return later in the day. I promised to stay with Mom and call him with any developments.

While the nurse—who was only responsible for two patients—worked on setting things up and executing all the orders, she kindly explained to me that Mom was going to be kept in an induced coma while her brain healed. She mentioned that they would be using the drug propofol to keep her unconscious and, she assured me, in a state where it was impossible for her to feel pain. I read about it while she worked. (My undergraduate degree is in biochemistry and computer science.)

Her explanation and the references I skimmed explained that propofol has highly variable dosing—it's sort of trial-and-error to get the right level for a given patient—but has a nice feature in that it takes effect almost instantly and clears the body very quickly. So, once they turn on the spigot, the patient is unconscious and cannot feel pain and, when it's turned off, the effects rapidly vanish and that patient wakes up.

After the nurse finished with Mom, I sat by her bed and continued reading and within about 20 minutes, I noticed that she started to moan. I called the nurse and she said it was expected and increased the dose. (The doctor had written orders for a wide range of dosing at her discretion.)

The moaning continued and intensified for 15 more minutes, then I called the nurse again. She again increased the dose and left. This repeated one more time, then she reached the upper limit the doctor had permitted.

At this point, my mother looked somewhat like Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein with her head shaved and bandaged, but moaning and arching her back and lurching up spastically. It was not the appearance of a person "incapable of feeling pain". (She did not, however, break into a rendition of Putting on the Ritz.) I tried to tactfully point out that what we were seeing did not match what the nurse told me to expect.

I didn't want to inadvertently interfere, but I was already discreetly running through basic problem solving in my head? Could this be the wrong medicine in the pump? Could the pump not be working? Is the drug intended for her veins instead puddled on the floor? Is the IV placed properly? I had to insist that the woman stay and explain the details to me.

After about another 45 minutes—during which I thought Mom was going to throw herself off the bed with her lurches—she realized that she had connected the pump to the wrong line. (The paramedics had installed a line in her arm en route to the hospital, but the surgeons had discontinued that one and had installed one of their own. The nurse had connected the meds to the port that had already closed itself off.) Sigh.

Well, this has grown into kind of a marathon post. Sorry. If I'm not banned for prolixity, I will relay the rest of Mom's tale in a second part.

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